architectural rendering of gazebo space as result of community conversations
The Cultural Land Stewardship (CLS) will solidify the community network and infrastructure necessary to retain cultural and historic sites in locations of rapid, intensified or systemic cultural economic, political or social change while maintaining cultural, political and social stability for established communities to strengthen the capacity of current residents and/or owners. CLS will center just development and/or sustainable healing of the land and buildings where cultural and familial heritage is threatened. The CLS will shape and define the terms of development by generating a nexus of autonomy and authenticity to focus on preserving property at the intersection of environmental, historical, cultural and family urgency.
HISTORY OF THE AMPERSEE AREA
Tribe’s history and 1821 Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Reservation (present-day Kalamazoo) by Lakota Hobias and Michelle S. Johnson
Since time immemorial, the Pottawatomi and other Neshnabé relatives have lived along the Kalamazoo River and its tributaries. The first major Pottawatomi land cession in present-day southwest Michigan occurred under the 1821 Treaty of Chicago. The treaty ceded Southwest Michigan and established five reservations within the ceded territory. One of the reservations was the 1821 Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Reservation that is now overlapped by the contemporary city limits of Kalamazoo. This reservation was "created" within the existing Pottawatomi village of Gzigmezé at the "head of the Kalamazoo River". Gzigmezék was the lifeblood and one of the major highways of the Pottawatomi, and this meant all domestic, recreational, economic, and religious activities occurred along its banks. Once the 1821 reservation was disestablished in 1827, the Tribe was then forcibly displaced northward through Cooper, Plainwell, and Martin until finally settling at their winter camp in the Gun Lake area as they sought to avoid forced removal west.
Around 1869, Black laborers began living in the area. These residents shaped the physical, economic, social and cultural landscape and comprise a fundamental foundation the neighborhood. These individuals and their families, some second generation Michiganders by 1920, and others relocated from southern states, contributed to various economic industries. Butchers, ministers, paper mill janitors, washers and maids working for private families, beauty shop “servants” and foundry molders rented and owned and developed a community based revenue flow. Over time, the community generated university educated and civically engaged professionals like Judge Charles Pratt. The Pacific Club served as one of the cornerstones of the community and operated from 1946 until the mid 1970’s being sustained by Black people like Council Hawes, Celestine Barnes, Emma Davis and others. One of the missions of this historic Black owned and membership based club was engaging in the civil rights movement through arts, entertainment and hospitality. The Pacific Club's narrative remains iconic in the community.
The Kalamazoo floodplain area accommodated power companies as early as 1904 that dumped coal ash in the hourglass parcel of the property, eventually creating a 20-foot mound. From the 1970’s to the present, the coal ash deposit site became an intermittent location where houseless people settled even after established as a Brownfield site. As trees and plants grew on the land, so did the houseless populations until the City cleared the trees, coal ash mound, and people in 2012, in part, to eliminate the houseless settlement. The clearing created a dangerous and less secluded environment, yet residents continued camping. First a few people at a time until the site grew to more than 120 tents during the pandemic.
AMPERSEE WELLNESS PARK
AMPERSEE WELLNESS PARK'S focus is revitalization of the Urban Riverscape on Kalamazoo's east side. The project goal is to reconnect and rebuild the Black and Native communities’ histories and narratives of the Ampersee Wellness Park's riverscape. The project team has conducted focus groups of 3-6 cultural stewards to assist with design of interpretive panels and engage the larger community through oral history interviews and collective gathering and dialogue to actively interpret through our own voices our relationships to and the layered histories of this place we all call home. The Wellness Park also includes the AMPERSEE COMMUNITY GARDEN made up of raised beds constructed to keep the food grown safe from soil contaminants, is filled with fresh produce that is free for the community to pick and use.